What is Existential Therapy?
Existential therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on helping people find meaning in their lives. It was developed by Dr. Rollo May (1902-1994) who was a psychiatrist at Harvard University. He believed that people have a need to make sense out of their existence and that they often feel lost and confused about what is going on in their lives. His theory is that people become depressed when they have maladaptive coping that holds them from pursuing living that aligns with meaning and purpose. He thought that depression could be treated by helping patients understand themselves and their situation and helping them to confront their maladaptive coping and live authentically.
Existential therapy helps people identify their values, develop goals, and learn to live according to those values. It teaches them to think about their own mortality and encourages them to face the reality of death. People who suffer from existential distress may experience feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and despair. These emotions can lead to physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, and fatigue.
Existential therapists help patients deal with these negative emotions by encouraging them to examine their thoughts and actions. They ask questions about the patient's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Patients are encouraged to look at their past experiences and consider whether they have learned anything from them. They are asked to reflect on their relationships with others and to evaluate their current relationships. They are taught to take responsibility for their actions and to try to improve their situations.
Existential therapies are based on the belief that people should strive to achieve personal growth and self-actualization. They encourage people to accept their limitations and to appreciate their strengths. They teach patients to focus on the present moment and to enjoy the things they have rather than dwell on the things they don't have. Existential therapists believe that people should be able to overcome obstacles and challenges and to use their talents to create meaningful lives.